U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr (Public Domain)
Fake comments left on the FCC’s website have ignited controversy surrounding Thursday’s vote.
One Twitter user has exemplified the curious nature of fraudulent comments left on the Federal Communications Commission‘s (FCC) website in favor of repealing net neutrality rules by sharing three comments with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that were posted in the name of her dead mother.
Mackenzie Astin, the son of Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke and half-brother of Stranger Things actor Sean Astin, posted a tweet with three screenshots of comments left in favor of the FCC repealing the 2015 Open Internet Order that say they were written by his mother. The problem, he explained, is that his mother died in March 2016 and all three comments were published in 2017.
The screenshots quickly went viral. They highlight the concern over the FCC’s vote on Thursday in light of investigations that allege that millions of comments in favor of repealing net neutrality were fraudulently submitted.
“Hey, @AjitPaiFCC, today my mom would have turned 71. But she didn’t. Because she died in March of 2016. Can you please take the time to explain to me how she made three separate comments in support of ending #NetNeutrality more than a year after she died,” Astin wrote.
Hey, @AjitPaiFCC, today my mom would have turned 71. But she didn't. Because she died in March of 2016. Can you please take the time to explain to me how she made three separate comments in support of ending #NetNeutrality more than a year after she died?
— Mackenzie Astin (@MackenzieAstin) December 15, 2017
The fraudulent comments reportedly left on the FCC’s website have been at the center of controversy for weeks, leading to attorneys general, Senate members, and several lawmakers in the House of Representatives to openly question the validity of public comments left on the agency’s website ahead of Thursday’s vote.
Even FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called the fake comments a “problem” before dissenting to Thursday’s vote.
But in his statement yesterday before voting for repeal, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly dismissed the uproar over fake comments as baseless fear-mongering: “Some would have us believe that the comment process has been irreparably tainted by the large number of fake comments. That view reflects a lack of understanding about the Administrative Procedure Act.”
The day before the FCC’s vote, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said his investigation found 2 million comments were left on the agency’s website using names of Americans who did not write them. Of the two million comments, more than 100,000 comments were left in states such as New York, Florida, Texas, and California, according to Schneiderman. He has set up a website where people can see if comments were left in their name.
On Thursday, shortly following the vote, Schneiderman said he plans to file a lawsuit to stop the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality rules.
“Today’s vote also follows a public comment process that was deeply corrupted, including two million comments that stole the identities of real people,” he said in a statement. “This is a crime under New York law–and the FCC’s decision to go ahead with the vote makes a mockery of government integrity and rewards the very perpetrators who scammed the system to advance their own agenda.”
Scneiderman is not the only one who has raised alarms over the fake comments.
On Wednesday 18 attorneys general called on the FCC to postpone its vote pending an investigation into the fake comments and urged the agency to cooperate with Schneiderman’s investigation. Earlier this month, nearly 30 senators called on the FCC to delay the vote, saying the vote was “based on an incomplete understanding of the public record” and suggesting that the proposal to kill net neutrality rules was “fundamentally flawed.”
The FCC responded to the senators by calling them “desperate.”
Last week, eleven Democrats from the House of Representatives asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the fake comments, specifically looking into the “extent and pervasiveness of fraud and the misuse of American identities.”
“We understand that the FCC’s rulemaking process requires it to address all comments it receives, regardless of who submits them,” their letter read. “However, we do not believe any outside parties should be permitted to generate any comments to any federal governmental entity using information it knows to be false, such as the identities of those submitting the comments.”
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